The process that birthed my story was relatively short given my proximity to the medical field both growing up and now. Recently, I’ve found myself writing about the local hospital COVID-19 response for The Daily Utah Chronicle. With that beat in mind, my next train of thought came naturally to me: I’ve written about the medical experience within the context of the pandemic several times, but what about the mass grieving that comes with it?
After a few conversations with colleagues and some Google searching, I found my sources and conducted interviews. While I was able to interview Francis Mortensen of Serenicare in person, my conversation with Shanna Beesley about her Zoom funeral service for her mother happened, ironically, on Zoom. Both conversations were insightful and emotionally powerful, but it was difficult to conduct such a personal interview through a virtual platform: just another reminder of the ways human connection has had to adapt.
I struggled to find a third source. Email after email went ignored. First, I tried to contact grief counselors, eager to work their expertise into my article. When that fell through, I turned to the funeral home Shanna Beesley visited for her mother also to no avail. Next was Utah’s state epidemiologist and the Utah Health Department, which failed again. Upon Professor Kimberley Mangun’s advice, I then reached out to the Utah Funeral Directors Association and received a promising reply — until suddenly there was no contact, even after repeated reminders.
Finally, in a bit of a long shot, I turned to the National Funeral Directors Association. I expected no response, but at the last possible second, NFDA director of public relations Jessica Koth reached out to me and I was able to conduct an email interview.
I’ve never written something like this story before. As an experienced news writer, I’ve often stuck to the formulaic style of hard news, never straying too far out of my comfort zone — a one-sentence summary lede that answered everything you needed to know about the story right off the bat. Some stories certainly require that style, but I wanted this endeavor to feel as personal as possible; hard news felt just as detached as yet another virtual platform.
So, with everything in mind, I sat down to write my rough draft — and ended up with over 1,300 words. Details that begged to be included were everywhere at first glance as I explored the story. The story found me. I wrote it not in one order, starting smack-dab in the middle and shifting paragraphs around in a frenzy of creativity. On second thought, the story didn’t just find me. It dragged me in and told me to keep writing, and so I listened.
Writing “Grief work” was an experiment and a revelation all at once. I hope this story affects you just as powerfully as it did me.
Alexis Perno is a freshman Communication major specializing in journalism at the University of Utah. With three years of journalism experience and a lifetime of creative writing under her belt, writing has been a passion for as long as Alexis can remember. Her past achievements include awards for her journalistic and creative pursuits at the local, state and national level along with three years of competitive spoken word poetry and a self-published poetry book. Now, Alexis works as an editorial intern for SLUG Magazine while managing her personal poetry brand at www.labryspeaks.com and @labryspeaks on Instagram. You can get in touch with Alexis via her email at firstname.lastname@example.org.